Net Carbs

net carbsI’ve heard of the idea of “net carbs” before but I never really knew what people were talking about.  Was it just a way for people to kinda cheat and feel like they were eating fewer carbs?  Or is it legitimately something to pay attention to when looking at your nutrition day in and day out?  To answer those questions I did a little digging and research to see what all the fuss is about the idea of net carbs.

Types of Carbs – Net Carbs

When we talk about types of carbs, we often think about simple vs complex carbohydrates.  Simple carbs being things like fruit and candy, while complex carbs are things like whole grain foods or brown rice.  When thinking about net carbs, though, we’re not concerned with simple vs complex, we’re basically just concerned with fiber and sugar alcohols vs all other forms of carbohydrates.  To calculate net carbs, people typically take the total carbs on the label and subtract out the grams of fiber and grams of sugar alcohols.

Net Carbs and Fiber/Sugar Alcohol

So why subtract out the fiber and sugar alcohol to get to net carbs?  The idea is that fiber and sugar alcohols pass through your system mostly undigested.  Other forms of carbohydrates do get digested when you eat them and affect your body differently.  What most people are concerned with is how their blood sugar is affected.  Fiber and sugar alcohols don’t raise blood sugar like other forms of carbs, so some people find it important to calculate net carbs, such as people with diabetes.

Traditionally 1 gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories, but that’s not the case with sugar alcohols.  This really confused me at one point.  I was drinking a Vitamin Water and looked at the nutrition label.  It said it had 3 grams of carbs, but 0 calories.  I thought it had to be wrong, because I always thought that 1 gram of carbohydrate always had 4 calories.  I did some research and it turned out that the Vitamin Water was being sweetened with sugar alcohols.  While they aren’t calorie free, they have less than 1 calorie per gram, so on food labels they often don’t list the calories.

Are Net Carbs Useful?

So now that you know how to calculate net carbs, should you really be concerned with it?  In my opinion, no.  The net carb calculation really just came about because people on low carb diets wanted to be able to eat more carbs and it was also pitched to people with Type 1 diabetes to help them control their blood sugar levels.  Personally, I don’t think it’s worth your time to worry about this.  Just make sure that your carbohydrate sources are coming from fruits, vegetables, brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, etc. and you will be just fine.

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